January 31, 2012

Digital Direction

All of us at ECF Vital Practices tend toward the practical. When writing about communications technologies, we are focused on helping congregations use these new tools, whether it’s creating dynamic Facebook pages, improving e-newsletters, claiming space on Google Sites, or creative uses of QR codes. But in this post I thought I’d focus on the spiritual perplexity that many feel toward our increasingly connected world, and the need for religious leaders (lay and clergy) to discuss these concerns in their congregations.

Two articles recently highlighted this need. The first discusses the need to take a creative pause (Sabbath?) from what the author terms our “insecurity work” on mobile devices and social media sites; the second is a New York Times piece on emerging rituals for mourning in a digital age. Both articles raise more questions than answers, which only seems appropriate considering the pace of technological change.
Digital Sabbath from ‘Insecurity Work’

While I wasn’t familiar with the term ‘insecurity work’, I am overly familiar with the phenomenon it describes.

This Fast Company article depicts “insecurity work” as the need to constantly check-in on Facebook, Twitter, emails, etc, as a way of reassuring our egos, our status & the importance of our work. “Your confidence and self-esteem can be reassured by checking your number of ‘followers’ on Twitter or the number of ‘likes’ garnered by your photographs and blog posts. The traction you are getting in your projects, or with your business, can now be measured and reported in real time.” The author argues that in order to be creative we need to be able to draw “bright lines around our sacred space”, lay claim to our creative pause, and disconnect regularly.

Not surprisingly, this Fast Company article talks about this need to disconnect in secular terms; it argues that disconnecting regularly is requisite for becoming a more creative employee. But what about becoming a whole/holier person, someone who can lay aside our insecurity and rest in the security of God’s love? Does our faith life need a digital Sabbath?

Mouring in a Digital Age

How does a person respond to a mass email announcing a friend’s death? Should you post your condolences on a grieving person’s Facebook wall?

These are two of the more practical questions that this New York Times piece grapples with, although, in reality, the article is more of an exploration of what it means to mourn in a world that is increasingly digitized and decreasingly religious. “Today, with religiosity in decline, families dispersed and the pace of life feeling quickened, elaborate, carefully staged mourning rituals are less and less common. Old customs no longer apply, yet new ones have yet to materialize.” Ironically, the article doesn’t really touch on what I’ve been most struck by in terms of digital communications and death: namely, the moving way that emails and Tweets and Facebook walls and comments continue to live on, searchable long after the person has died.

Once again, the article seems to raise more questions than answers, but then I’m reminded of how powerful it can be to hear privately-held questions spoken aloud from the pulpit. Can our churches provide some digital direction here?